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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 October, 2003, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Evicted islanders vow to fight on
Diego Garcia
The islanders, who all hold British passports, were exiled in the 1970s
Thousands of islanders expelled from their Indian Ocean home have vowed to fight on after losing their latest court battle for compensation from the UK Government.

A group of Chagos inhabitants want compensation and the right to return to the islands from which they were unlawfully removed by Britain more than 30 years ago.

But on Thursday a High Court judge told them the claim should have been brought years ago, though he added some had been treated "shamefully" by successive UK governments.

The claimants were given four months to prepare arguments for permission to appeal.

Their solicitor, Richard Gifford, said: "They will certainly continue their struggle.

"They are now in a state of shock that there has been no adjudication in their favour."

At least 1,000 people were displaced from the archipelago between 1967 and 1973, to make way for a US military base on the island of Diego Garcia.

'No grounds'

Outside the High Court on Thursday chair of the Chagos Refugees Group, Olivier Bancoult, said they were being treated like "second class" British citizens.

"We will never give up," he said. "It's our life. We have lost all our culture, our land, our houses, everything."

It does appear that...at least some claimant Chagossians could show that they were treated shamefully
Mr Justice Ouseley

More than 5,000 people - including all the original inhabitants and subsequent generations - would have benefited from the claim.

In a 750-page ruling Judge Mr Justice Ouseley said the islanders had no grounds for bringing the claim and that it had no realistic prospect of succeeding, despite a ruling in 2000 that there was no legal justification to their original eviction.

But he accepted that an injustice had been done and that previous compensation had been inadequate.

'Shock'

"It does appear that, in the absence of unexpectedly compelling evidence to the contrary, at least some claimant Chagossians could show that they were treated shamefully by successive UK governments," he said.

But he criticised the lack of reliability of the evidence of individual Chagossians.

Most of the claimants now live in poverty on Mauritius.

Richard Gifford, solicitor for the islanders, said they had vowed to carry on their fight for justice.

Chagos archipelago
Most of the claimants now live in poverty on Mauritius

"They are now in a state of shock that there has been no adjudication in their favour," he said.

"It is certainly not the end of the road."

Counsel Robin Allen QC said during the hearing that the displaced islanders were "totally destitute" as they had no skills beyond those in the coconut industry, of which there was none in Mauritius.

The judge agreed the Chagossians had paid a high price for the military base.

"Many were given nothing for years but a callous separation from their homes, belongings and way of life and a terrible journey to privation and hardship," Mr Ouseley said.

Island leased

The attorney general and British Indian Ocean Territory Commissioner argued that individuals had not been removed against their will or taken dishonestly or in bad faith.

They said their duty of care had been discharged by an agreement with Mauritius in 1972, the payment of resettlement costs in 1973 and a further payment of 4 million in 1982.

The Chagos islanders were victorious three years ago, when the High Court ruled that the 1971 Immigration Ordinance order excluding them from the British Indian Ocean Territory was unlawful and should be quashed.

The Foreign Office accepted the ruling, but has always questioned how practical it would be for the islanders to return, and fought their claims for compensation and resettlement.

The entire population of the Chagos archipelago - 2,000 people according to the islanders, but only 1,000 according to the UK Government - was relocated more than three decades ago.

Britain leased Diego Garcia, halfway between Africa and Southeast Asia, to the United States.

Each of the 5,000 claimants has the right to hold a British passport under the Overseas Territories Act 2002.




SEE ALSO:
Islanders camp out at Gatwick
09 Jul 03  |  Southern Counties
UK island to house stealth bombers
17 Sep 02  |  UK News
The Chagos Islands: A sordid tale
03 Nov 00  |  Politics


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